Money Friday, June 24, 2011
FORTUNE — Big pharmaceutical companies aren’t at a crossroads so much as on the edge of a cliff. Thanks to a special provision in patent laws for drugs, companies lose intellectual property protection on pharmaceuticals after 20 years. After that, exclusive rights to the drugs fall into an abyss of competition from other companies making much cheaper generic versions. The point at which pharma companies lose exclusive rights to their drugs is called the patent cliff.
Yet one company, Allergan (AGN, Fortune 500), has managed to steer clear of the edge. Most big, mainstream pharma companies are desperately working to develop new expensive drugs and filing lawsuits to extend patents on old ones. But to dodge that deadline, Allergan is using another strategy; let’s call it the “stay small and make weird products” approach.
The company behind Botox®, the “face-lift in a bottle,” is itself aging rather gracefully. Net sales increased by 13.3%, to roughly $1.3 billion, in the first quarter of 2011 compared with the same period last year, and the company has given analysts no reason to think it won’t put together a string of good quarters.